tv Tavis Smiley PBS May 16, 2011 2:00pm-2:30pm PDT
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, our conversation with a legendary figure in the world of public television, of bill moyers. he has a new book based on his "billrunning pbs series, bil moyers' journal." our conversation with bill moyers, coming up right now. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side.
>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: always pleased and honored to be in the company of my friend bill moyers. his latest book is an extension of his award winning show, called "bill moyers' journal -- the conversation continues." i am so delighted the conversation continues on this program tonight. >> where else but with mr. tavis smiley? tavis: i am happy to have you
here. there was a rumor, may be some truth to it, all over the internet that bill moyers was thinking about coming back to pbs, un-retiring. >> like rumors of my death, which happen occasionally, this was exaggerated. we have been exploring some things to do, including specials, miniseries, potentially an interview show of the smaller mold than the one we did, but we have not decided anything yet. i am still enjoying the reflection and deliberation. we're working on a four part series and we're hoping to finish by the end of the year, the time between the civil war and the election of 1912 when corporate power became dominant in the american economy and workers and people in the south had to fight back to try to win their place and dignity.
but there is no weekly series in the planning right now. tavis: to your point, i know and i thought of you when this happened many months ago, but that citizens united decision must rub you raw. >> i have long had this concern about how money is in politics. the citizens united in and of itself was, in my judgment, wrong and dangerous because it said that a corporation has the same rights as an individual on the street to speak. we know that corporations, if they speak with money, purchased the biggest megaphone in town. but the other part of the citizens united decision is made possible secret money. there was an effort in the house, that actually passed a measure, to require disclosure of this money, but the senate republicans refused to act on it
and it died. it now you have secret money and no requirements for exposure. tavis: it is even worse than that now. the past few days, we now hear representatives of the obama administration -- not the administration but his campaign, david axelrod and others, who are calling this secret money a necessary evil. there are major hollywood brokers getting involved in funneling that money, raising money for democrats. rather than us standing in our truth and saying this is wrong, now the left is saying, boldly, they will engage in the same way the republicans engaged and will find as much secret money as they can find and spend. is that the answer? >> of course not. the answer would have been for the democrats to take a principled stand and say we will not turn politics into a war of the rich against the rich. but as always has been the case,
one wrong door who is not chasing will it lead others into the same wrongdoing. we will have a political system depended on secret money from anonymous sources influencing who runs, who wins, and the policies they act upon. tavis: i want to ask whether or not you are concerned, and if so, to what degree, there are not the kinds of voices -- not so much just about bill moyers but the paucity of voices on television, public television, commercial television, what have you, expressing points of view about the fragile nature of our democracy around these kinds of issues you have laid out in this book? >> television, including public television, rarely gives a venue to people who refuse to buy into the ruling ideology of washington.
we have two parties, they do their job, pretty well. the differences between them limit the terms of the debate. but we know that real change comes from up side of the consensus. real change comes from people making history, dissenting, protesting, agitating, organizing. those voices that challenge the ruling ideology, the two parties, the best of all worlds do a pretty good job, those voices constantly pushed to the areas that you cannot see or hear. you get some voices on your show, amy goodman, "democracy now," but not as a steady presence in the public discourse. tavis: i want to talk about some of the issues in your book, but i have always been fascinated by the fact that you have started out inside the body politic.
you were with lyndon johnson, inside the white house, and your views over the years, if one did not know your back store, are not necessarily the story of one who is in government at the level, intrenched where you were. you are hanging out inside the white house and you have these kind of views about washington. >> that was in one part because i saw how washington really worked. i realize the important thing, particularly for journalists -- i had been a journalist before, was not how close you were to power but how close you were to truth. all governments lie, all governments make compromises that are designed to perpetuate their power, and you see that when you are inside. i was very young, 26, 28 when i was in washington, and the white house, naive. i accepted the ruling ideology,
the two parties are the best way to run the democracy and will serve the public good. well, they sometimes serve the public good, but more often than not, they served in their own interest. that is what we did when we were in washington. we were thinking about reelection, the compromises to hold on to public opinion. it was when i got away from washington and had perspective on it that i began to see the consequences, even well- intentioned, of politics, particularly as more and more money began to decide the outcomes. tavis: i have been honored to be on a couple of hit lists over the years with you, my name right next to bill moyers. i want to ask seriously whether or not there is a place on public television, a place on public radio for opinion. you have been accused of having a left opinion.
i have been accused and certain conversations of having a left opinion. is there a rate -- is there a place in public radio or television today for opinion? >> there should be a place for diversity of opinions. that is what i talk about in the book, these people range across the spectrum and beyond the liberal and conservative spectrum. i even interviewed a couple of socialists and libertarians and a couple of radicals. there should be a place. i was present at the creation of public broadcasting back in 1965. lyndon johnson signed the public broadcasting act of 1967. he too had made his money by running television in texas, he said from corporate television does not provide enough alternatives in the dialogue of america, in the conversation. we need public television to offer a forum to all kinds of
views, all diversity of opinion. we have relatively narrow spectrums, even in public broadcasting, so that many of our shows that are establishment figures, experts, top business journalists, you rarely get the radical voice, the dissenting voice, the voice of the populist, the progressive, the libertarian, the radical. you rarely get those because, again, journalism and america is organized around opinion in washington, the debate in washington, and that debate is narrowly defined at of whether the truth lies between republican opinion or democrat opinion, but outside of that consensus. tavis: let me make a statement first, then ask your opinion, your take on this. i was troubled, as i suspect you
were, by the attacked we just witnessed, that public television has been under, in some ways an annual occurrence, or public tv and radio takes a hit from certain people in washington. we have gotten accustomed to that. this was a little different because some money was cut this time around. i know the democrats held off as much as they could in the senate, but some money was cut. i was troubled by that attack and debate, number one. i was curious to get your opinion about that, number one, but that is not disconnected from this, which is i -- i have a copy in my office, i keep it in my desk to keep me on point, but i often go back and read that charter that you spoke of, that lyndon johnson signed. i read the charter of what public television and public radio were created to do. i say this, and it may be
politically incorrect, but we are not living up to that charter. we're not living it up -- we're not living up to it in public television or radio what comes to diversity and inclusion of voices. i wonder if we in some ways deserve being pushed a little bit if we're not living up to the charter. you tell me. >> i don't think we're living up to that charter, no, i don't. the conservatives have too many people in public television, too many people in public redial looking over their shoulders, hearing that the right is after them. we don't really have a left in this country. there is no organized left that comes after journalists away the right does, who offer a different alternatives. this is an old story, tavis. richard nixon and pat buchanan, his communications director, tried to do in public broadcasting in the early 1970's, accused us of being liberal when in fact we were just offering an alternative
view of reality. and then bob dole when he was senate majority leader, minority leader, came after public broadcasting. newt gingrich came after public broadcasting. and the majority of the bush and administration, there were more responsive to karl rove the network to the stations. that constant harassment creates a kind of caution and self- censorship on the part of people who just do not want to -- we only get 17% of the budget from congress, that is enough to leave a big gap in what the local stations do if we did not have it. but it creates almost a pavlovian response. i think there is an unintended but inevitable censorship that takes place on the part of the people who are running the programs, booking programs, lining up guests, to make sure that we did not give the right wing another chance to come in
and give the say accusation of being liberal. tavis: this book brings to life some of the bridge conversations you have had over the years on public television. the obvious question is how the go about narrowing down the ridge conversations you have had to fit into this text? >> those are only about 40 of the conversations from about 250 during the course of "the journal." which shows those that were speaking more to more timeless issues. it covers the last 15 months of the george bush administration, the tumultuous election of 2008, and the first 18 months of the obama administration. it was a very intensely political and topical time for journalism, but we took a respite from that. you will find theology, philosophy, arts, humanities,
science, economics, politics. we go always for a variety. if you do only politics, as you know, i just saw you interview betty white, if you stay only with politics, you have a very range of vocabulary, ideas, and interests. people who watch television what diversity in what they see. my favorite part of the booke, the poetry. john lithgow, the actor, he is a published author of poetry, including poems for children. the message of the book is that we can fight back. general hightower, a great populist, says corporate power overwhelming corporate power is making a mockery of americans. they think they are the top dogs and the arab day -- and we are
their water hydrants. but he is right. but we can fight back. the other message of the book, as the late historian says, people making history is a beautiful side. people engaged in education, engaged in challenging officials, he said, real change comes from outside of the system. it comes from people prodding, taking response, prodding the government to do the right thing. most government does not want to do the right thing, that want to perpetuate their power. but people can bring change. martin luther king told lyndon johnson that, lyndon johnson listened as he argued, and lbj said to dr. king, go out there and make it possible for me to do the right thing. that is where real change comes. but the reason we have poets and the reason we both talked to artists and others is we fight
back by celebrating what is good in our lives. the creativity of authors, the enthusiastic populism of general hightower, the restrictive journalism of lopez. when you read it biggio funny talking about -- when you leap -- when you read giovanni talking about love, you want to fight to save a species that make love and a world that is hospitable to the portrait of love. we fight back by celebrate what is best in our lives and our culture. it is not just politics or economics, although there are prophetic voice is in there about politics and economics. this book is as relevant today as when we did these interviews, but we also have to celebrate -- henry david thoreau, the great
author of the 19th century, said it, "to affirm the quality of the day is the highest of the arts." and you have to include that kind of affirmation in your journalism or you wind of edging toward cynicism, moving towards -- skepticism is healthy, cynicism is poisonous. it is the artists and musicians, but painters, the writers, poets who provide the joy and insight in life, and you have to talk to them. even if you are doing a book about politics. tavis: i want to go back and pick up one thing that is really an arc that covers everything in the book, and that is this notion that you raised about truth and power. yesterday i talked about the fact that we find ourselves up against every day, we find ourselves in is a battle of
truth compared with power. are you going to be a truth how teller or power grabber? you expressed the same sentiment and a powerful way, but as i read these essays, that is what it comes down to. truth versus power, unpack that. >> my own conviction on this first comes from having grown up as a southerner. i come from part of the country where the truth about slavery was driven from the newsroom, driven from the pulpit, driven from the classroom. the south was in denial. it took a bloody civil war to drive the truth home, and then it took another 100 years before it acted on the truth that we are equal. i was part of the johnson administration. we escalated the war in vietnam. we put the wagons around any but the official view of reality,
and even tacked -- even attacked and criticize and demeaned the reporters in vietnam who were reporting. what is the truth? you can debate that, but the facts are not debatable. you are entitled to your own opinion but not iran fax. people -- but notyour own facts. people call me a liberal because mainly by reports of evidence they did not want to hear. my opinions are really based on the evidence that i have gathered, but this no longer -- this is no longer a society that honors the facts or the evidence. there was a study, university of michigan, that show people, confronted with facts that they know are right, will nonetheless not allow those facts to change their opinion because their belief, their positions are based on their beliefs, not on facts.
this is why you get a majority of republicans watching fox news who believe that obama was born in kenya or a majority of republicans listening to rush limbaugh who think obama is a socialist, even though he is as beholden to corporate power as a precedent i have seen in my lifetime. all of these people, you get all of these people whose opinions are confirmed by the journalism that they hear, and they are not moved by the facts of why they come after you or me, because we% information, fact-based, evidence-driven information that undermines their world view. you cannot believe obama is a socialist if you look at the facts of his relationship with the banks and corporations and all of that. but fact-based reporting is diminishing. it is not just an opinion. there is plenty of opinion. but fact-based journalism is an endangered species.
tavis: you were in the white house with president johnson, one of his right-hand man. we know when dr. king was assassinated on that balcony in mississippi, died with 75% of the american people turned against him according to the last harris poll, almost 57% of his own people, black folk, had turned against him because of his vietnam position. dr. king famously said, "or is the enemy of the port -- war is the enemy of the poor." we're still engaged in war. is it were still the enemy of the poor? >> it is the poor society that fought the war in iraq, fighting the war in afghanistan. it is the experts that the clear the war. that is like a civil war. the great robber barons of the 19th century, carnegie,
rockefeller, they bought their way out of war. they hired, paid about the any way, for pure people -- for poor people, working people to fight in their place. i was not in the white house when martin luther king made that speech. it was in april of 1968 when he made that speech at riverside church in which he came out strongly. i am told by the people who remained at the white house that lyndon johnson was vitriolic and bitter about that, because he thought it would undermine his cause, undermined the war. after that speech, black folks really began to question, really began to believe martin luther king about the fact that they were fighting the war, day and working class white people. that has been true of all wars and our time. i saw a study of the personnel, the fighting forces in
afghanistan. most of them come from working families. many of them because they cannot get a job at home. war thrives on the victims it creates on the battlefield and on the blood and muscle of young men and women who wind up serving when others purchase their way out of it. tavis: for my money, nobody has ever done it better than bill moyers. i have the honor to be on the network at least that overlapped his service for a number of years, but long before i got to pbs, i was a bill moyers fan, watching and learning and being in power by his work down the years. but there is a science or race or religion or theology, parts, anything you could imagine being discussed, bill moyers has had wonderful conversations about it on this network down through the years. i am delighted. his new book is called "bill
moyers' journal -- the conversation continues." bill moyers, i am delighted to have the on this program tonight. >> thank you for spending time with us. >> thank you. thank you for keeping the conversation going. tavis: i appreciated. that is our show for tonight. until then, good night from l.a., and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org tavis smiley. join me next time for my conversation with tom selleck. that is next time. we will see you then. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and answer, join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and